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Literature Study GuidesArrowsmithChapters 21 22 Summary

Arrowsmith | Study Guide

Sinclair Lewis

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Arrowsmith | Chapters 21–22 | Summary



Chapter 21

Part 1 of this chapter describes the way Nautilus develops the "Weeks habit," which means dedicating certain weeks to various topics and causes. Some examples include "Eat More Corn Week" and "Own Your Own Auto Week." A natural salesman, Dr. Almus Pickerbaugh manages to champion some public-health oriented weeks. In Part 2 Martin Arrowsmith enthusiastically takes part in Better Babies Week. However, he thinks More Babies Week and Anti-Tuberculosis Week are problematic, as they are wrong-headed and based on bogus statistics. Pickerbaugh is not concerned that the statistics are made up if they result in more hygienic behaviors.

In Part 3 Martin is frustrated because he is constantly interrupted when working in the laboratory. In Part 4 Orchid Pickerbaugh frequently stops by Martin's lab to visit. Martin is increasingly interested in her and begins rationalizing having an affair. When Leora Arrowsmith goes to Wheatsylvania to visit her family, Martin finds himself dropping in on Orchid. He sits close to her, holds her hand, and almost kisses her. One day when she comes to visit his lab, he does kiss her. That evening, as he and some friends are playing poker in his apartment, she calls him. His friends can tell he's talking to a woman and snicker at him, though they don't know who it is. Martin struggles between his desire for Orchid and his commitment to Leora and eventually decides not to let the relationship with Orchid grow.

Chapter 22

In Part 1 Dr. Pickerbaugh travels through the region, giving speeches and shaking hands, and he becomes so well-known he runs for Congress. Martin is left in charge of the Office of Public Health during the campaign. In Part 2 Martin is criticized by many for being a "tyrant and a radical." He is strict in enforcing regulations, and at one point he quarantines a cow and closes down a dairy farm because of an infection of streptococcus. Though both the farmer and Pickerbaugh object to the closure, Martin paints a dire picture of what could happen if the outbreak were to continue and contaminate the milk. They relent after Dr. J. C. Long, a Chicago bacteriologist, supports Martin's decision.

In Part 3 Martin and Leora have cocktails with Clay Tredgold, the president of the Steel Windmill Company, and his wife, Mrs. Tredgold. Martin also meets Mr. Schlemihl, president of the Cornbelt Insurance Company, and Monte Mugford, great-grandson of the man who founded Mugford College, at the Tredgold home. They all stay up quite late drinking. In Part 4 Martin and Leora continue to hobnob with these and other similarly wealthy families. One day Leora admits to Martin that she has long wanted to travel to France. He says they can go someday. He worries that Leora isn't as polished as the other wives.

In Part 5 Martin realizes he will very likely become the next director of the Department of Public Health. He wonders if the promotion and all his success will make him miserable. But he decides to give it his best shot, nonetheless.


Chapter 21 is a great example of how Sinclair Lewis weaves his social satire into a more serious narrative about a man struggling to find his way in a complex world. The opening of the chapter gives a comedic and hyperbolic portrait of the "Weeks habit." Every week has some theme, ranging from the ridiculous to the practical. Though only a week in execution, each special week takes months of preparation. With the number of different weeks listed, all the energies of the citizens of Nautilus are overwhelmingly poured into the planning and organizing of the weeks. There can't possibly be time for anything else. Amid this ridiculous scenario Martin and Leora Arrowsmith take part in Better Babies Week. This is poignant because they are unable to have children of their own. At the same time Martin begins to see that Almus Pickerbaugh, who has a heart of gold, is unethical in his own way. In particular, he is not terribly concerned with telling the truth. He wants people to behave in a certain way, and he's willing to tell some white lies and use some questionable statistics to motivate them.

Martin's desire for Orchid Pickerbaugh intensifies in Chapter 21, and he begins to fantasize about having an extramarital affair with her. It bears noting that his card-playing friends do not seem scandalized. Perhaps they would be if they knew the woman Martin was talking to was Orchid, but they don't treat Martin as if he's doing anything out of the ordinary. This suggests unfaithfulness in marriage is not atypical for successful men. The idea that affairs are acceptable or even expected for financially successful men is reinforced by the fact Martin feels defeated by his own morality—as if he somehow failed by not pursuing an affair. He laments, "God help any man that likes his work and his wife! He's beaten from the beginning." At home as at work Martin's ethical compass prevents him from fully pursuing the lifestyle of the higher classes.

In Chapter 22 Martin again goes through the familiar tug-of-war between his desire to fit in and what seems to be his true calling of scientific research. His desire to fit in with high society makes him feel dissatisfied with Leora's lack of polish yet again. He makes petty comments like "Why can't you take a little time to make yourself attractive?" But as always Leora is unwavering in herself. She's not a superficial kind of person, and she's not going to try to be. This pattern is now very familiar. It is so familiar that when Martin asks himself "I wonder if there's people who become what's called 'successful' and then hate it?" readers already know the answer. The so-called successful, respectable life is not for him. It's just taking a while for Martin to realize this truth.

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